Study Techniques: Mass V.S. Distributed Practice

By Eva Diaz

It can be a scary and exciting experience to enter college. All new experiences and people you meet can be overwhelming at some point. Student life can differ from what high school taught you. There are many things that you have to learn during your first semester school: how to write proper notes, how to follow the speed of your professor, but most importantly how to study. It may open up your mind greatly, but it could also bring many questions to life. What does this mean? What is the professor talking about? Am I doing this right? Who am I again? Although I cannot answer who you are, I can give you tips on studying for your classes as you prepare for the semester.

First, I will begin by defining that Mass practice and Distributed practice (1). Mass practice can be simply defined as having an intense and long session where all you are doing is trying to learn the material. An example of mass practice is when you cram before an exam or you decide to do all your studying in one day. Distributed practice, or also known as spaced practice, is when you take smaller sessions for a longer period of time. An example that would make it better to understand would be that to study for in exam in sections or days before hand. It would be easier to study a chapter or a couple vocabulary words per day instead of throwing it all in one night.

Scientific Findings

Cramming information, the night before a test seems like a good idea, but just cramming is not helping you learn the information that you are trying to learn. Studies in learning done by Kristine C. Bloom and Thomas J. Shuell (2001) have been done with high school students in a second level French courses using mass and distributed practice (2). The results revealed that the score average for the first test were relatively close, but students who used the mass practice approach to study got a poorer score on the second test meanwhile the distributed practice group remained about the same. Students who were able to be part of the distributed practice group were able to break down their study time into ten minute sections in three separate days. The mass practice group was not allowed to look at the study material until the day of the test. The distributed practice group was able to equally distribute the time and maintain their focus on a section of words each day, allowing for deeper processes and links to occur. Studies from Robert L. Hohn have found similar result with kindergarten children doing class work (3).

By Eva Diaz

Other experiments have been able to find evidence that mass and distributed practice can be used for different types of learning, but that distributed practice works best when trying to learn class work. Steve R. Murray and Brian E. Udermann were looking for the best was to achieve better performance in physical demanding activities, like swimming. However, they were able to find more than they were looking for. They saw that using mass practice for athletics increased the individual’s performance, but the same did not work for academics (4). Mumford and co-workers (1994) did a study to see which practice was preferred by participants learning to purify milk. The study showed that 61 participants preferred to distribute their time to perfect their technique and be able to produce more fresh milk with less error (5).

Advice on How to use distributed practice:

  • Make sure to give yourself enough time to study all of your material
  • Separate your study materials into sections
  • An example would be if you have 4 chapters to study for a test and you have 4 days to study the material. By following distributed practice, you would study a chapter a day to prepare for the test.
  • Give yourself breaks
    o Example: study for an hour and take a 10-15 min study break
     That break will be your motivator to continue studying
  • Make sure to not overwhelm yourself
    o You won’t be able to learn any of the material you are doing if you have no motivation to keep you on track.
  • Make sure to keep distractions away from you to give your studying your divided attention.
    o Your text messages and Facebook notification can wait they are an added distraction that you do not need.

How to avoid mass practice:

  • Do not wait till last minute! (Procrastination is bad)
  • Organize your work load.
  • Ask questions when you have them.
By Eva Diaz

1) Mumford, M. D., Costanza, D. P., Baughman, W. A., Threlfall, K. V., Fleishman, E. A., (1994). Influence of Abilities on Performance During Practice: Effects of Massed and Distributed Practice. Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol. 86, No. 1, 134-144.
2) Bloom, K. C., Shuell, T. J., (2001). Effects of Massed and Distributed Practice on the Learning and Retention of Second-Language Vocabulary. Journal of Education Research,74(4), 245- 248.
3) Hohn, R. L., Effects of Massed vs. Distributed Practice and Word Frequency on Young Children’s Free Recall. U.S. Department of Health Education & Welfare Office of Education. 1-7
4)Murray. S. R., Udermann. B. E., (2003). Massed Versus Distributed Practice: Which is better?. Cahperd, 28(1), 19-22.
5) Mumford, M. D., Costanza, D. P., Baughman, W. A., Threlfall, K. V., Fleishman, E. A., (1994). Influence of Abilities on Performance During Practice: Effects of Massed and Distributed Practice. Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol. 86, No. 1, 134-144.

2 Replies to “Study Techniques: Mass V.S. Distributed Practice”

  1. I really enjoyed your pictures, they made me smile. I also liked that you included examples in your advice section. All in all, I really enjoyed reading this it was informative and the media you made was very creative.

  2. Thanks for the tips! Unfortunately I tend to do the mass practice method all to often, so this has been helpful and motivating.

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